Friday, February 10, 2017

In Defense of La La Land: Media as a Negative Enforcer

Nowadays I've been feeling 1) opinionated, and 2) in a decidedly make-my-own-covers-for-posts mood.

I've decided to roll with both.

So here are some thoughts/questions on moral values in media, because I feel like writing about this at the moment and seeing what y'all think. I'm open to discussion in the comments if you have any thoughts.

This post started coalescing in my brain when I read this analysis of La La Land on the blog Girl Defined. It's a fantastic blog and I encourage girls to check it out. The two sisters who run it have great thoughts on true femininity.

This particular post, however, caught my eye because it contained a common enough principle: that films have to endorse Christian values the whole way through or they are not worthwhile films.


I saw the main point of the post as saying that La La Land throws an immoral message at Christian girls because the main characters move in together and have a short-lived passionate romance, after which they break up and live happy lives as if nothing had happened. The post describes Mia as happy at the end, and being able to smile about the good memories she has of the past romance. 

The problem, the author states, is that La La Land thus depicts living together outside of marriage as ok and non-damaging in the long run. 

I thought this was interesting because my opinion right after seeing this movie was exactly the opposite. 

The ending did not strike me as happy. Instead it was emotionally wrenching, especially for Sebastian and, of course, the viewers. Neither Mia nor Sebastian seemed genuinely cheerful to me, and the music especially made the moment bittersweet. 

It was sad, but I liked that Mia and Sebastian's relationship fell apart. 

It illustrated that the moral laxity and the passion that they showed in moving in together before marriage was deprecating to their relationship. When they started living in the same apartment was when everything started going wrong. Their climactic fight over dinner would not have been as dramatic if they had genuinely committed to each other in marriage. Instead, they chose to simply "live in the moment" without thinking about the future of their relationship. Needless to say, that mentality backfired (even though it almost seems to be praised in other parts of the movie...).

In short, La La Land struck me as the perfect example of what not to do in a relationship. Rather than encouraging moving in together, I think it actually recommends waiting for marriage.

Why is it so easy to see the movie the other way round, though, and view it as encouraging immorality instead of deterring it?

I think the main problem is that La La Land is a negative enforcer, rather than a positive enforcer. (Speaking of enforcement in moral terms, rather than in training terms.)

We all have seen those movies that are positive enforcers, that show us good characters (almost perfect characters) and make these characters immensely appealing. Many of these films are spellbindingly beautiful and uplifting: The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Captain America (yes, I have to include Steve Rogers with the best of them).

However, many of these "positive enforcers," which go the positive way of demonstrating goodness and beauty and focusing as little as possible on flaws and sin, fall short.

Think of all the other positive enforcers that try to make goodness appealing, and fail terribly. Opinions will vary on this, but I'm sure you've seen a Christian movie, or just a kid's movie, that portrays a moral wonderfully and is squeaky clean, but to do so it pounds it into your head and gets away with poor acting, little character development, a lacking script, and a kind of feeling of...emptiness, of falsity.

It's easier to portray messiness than beauty. Or let me rephrase that: it's easier to portray bits of beauty than perfect beauty. 

C.S. Lewis, especially, runs a precarious tightrope between beauty and error/cheesiness. When you have a talking lion who is a direct representation of Jesus, you have to be really careful with how he acts and what he says. 

He pulls it off, though--Narnia is the most uplifting series I've ever seen or read. 

But he is one of the best writers of the 20th century. Not all Christian writers are so fortunate.

I can't help now but to think of all the negative enforcers, even if they're not trying to portray a good moral, like John Green in The Fault in Our Stars. That book contains some of the most hauntingly beautiful passages I've ever read, but if you back up and take a look at the whole story it's basically an atheistic and often profane lament about the pointlessness of human existence. 

Negative enforcers aren't just a modern phenomenon. Even many of the stories in the Bible seem to follow this path of showing people making major mistakes: the tale of David and Bathsheba, for example.

Stories like this show us that life is messy and often profane and often seemingly pointless. But they also show us beauty along the way, often pointing out that the path of the main character is NOT the way to go.

I think the awkward queasy feeling I get from watching a too-perfect conclusion where everything ends morally right (excepting the mastery from Lewis, Tolkien, and several other people) may be partly from my desire for a movie to portray something true. Something real.

And it's easier to portray true messiness (which we've all seen a lot of) than to portray true, pure beauty (which is rarer and difficult to fathom).

What do you think of this idea? Do you have any recommendations of movies or books that portray pure beauty in an excellent way? And last but not least: Nutella, yes or no?


  1. Wow. It's funny to me you posted this the same night I posted my review where *I* complained about their faulty approach to their relationship and the message it sent viewers, when if I'd just shifted my perspective to the movie's potential use of negative reinforcement, we'd be basically saying the same things.

    I also read(or skimmed) Girl Defined's review and didn't completely agree. The article seemed to be arguing that the movie was saying, "See! They cohabitated and rushed into their relationship and that ended swell!", when I don't think that's quite what the movie was preaching.

    It almost seems to me like the movie makers left the moral take-home of the movie up to the discretion of the viewer. Maybe?

    But yeah, this makes a lot of sense. Brilliant, Watson. ;)


    Hmmm, "books or movies that portray pure beauty in an excellent way"...besides the works of Lewis and Tolkien, Les Mis is the first thing that comes to mind. xD It also demonstrates the consequences of rushing into a relationship and living in the moment(Fantine) versus the purer, deeper love and relationship between Marius and Cosette.

    Nope. We get this thing called Cookie Butter, and it is much better than Nutella. xD

    1. Yeah, it is a funny coincidence that our posts came out at the same time! I agree...well...that we agree. :) The confusing thing about rating movies for moral content is that they can have different effects on different people, like if people view the movie as supporting cohabitation they will go home with that message, whereas if people view it as not supporting it they will go home with that message. Although people seem to interpret movies based on their worldview anyway; like we both came out of the theater agreeing that Mia and Sebastian's decision was a poor one, even though we disagreed on whether the movie was supporting it. So does media really change people's wordviews anyway? I guess what I'm getting at is... it's complicated. ;) True, maybe the moviemakers deliberately made the moral message ambiguous.

      Thanks for your insightful review, by the way; I especially liked your point about living in the moment. I hadn't noticed how much that idea pervaded the movie.

      Nice, I still need to watch Les Mis. I don't think I'll ever make it through the book! Or maybe it will be like The Lord of the Rings and I'll have an easier time reading the book after seeing the does sound like it has lots of beautiful messages in it though.

      Huh, I've never heard of Cookie Butter before. I'll have to check that out. :D


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